Ode To A Friend

I’m constantly wondering, why is it that I have such amazing friends? It’s enough sometimes to give a guy a complex. I understand that our experience is relative, therefore I should assume that it’s my perception which casts this light on the people around me. That said, goddamn I have great friends and today I’d like to sing the praise of one in particular.

This particular friend is an old one. I believe we met in grade one. We were natural enemies at first, just as so many boys are with their later best friends. After some ridiculous altercation wherein he called me names and I pulled his hair we decided, on those grounds, we were fit to be life-long brothers. The following years were filled with an idyllic kind of growth which can only be found in the island communities off the west-coast of Canada.

Vancouver Island

Where our paths took an unusual turn was around the time were both reaching the completion of our first decade on this blue dot called earth. His family for work reasons left for Japan. Bonded as we were at the hip, to lose such a great friend came as a great shock. Adding to this shock was the place he was going. Japan to an adult mind carries with it mystical connotations, to a child’s you might as well say you’re going to another planet. Thus my interest in the place I now live was born.

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The poor guy, or lucky, depending on how you look at it, was dropped into a Japanese elementary school as soon as he arrived. He had no training in the language. He was given no special treatment for his lack of its understanding. His life became the very definition of sink or swim. After a few years he came back to Canada and we were reunited again. He with an amazing understanding of a challenging foreign language. Me with a studied interest in where he had gone.

I discussed with him the dream that had grown in his absence: to live in Japan by teaching English one day. He supported the idea whole-heartedly. Also he shared with me his new interest in architecture. It felt like we could both see the future. He would become a successful architect, and I, a teacher thriving in a different fascinating culture. The powers that be, naturally, had something else in mind for the both of us.

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I fell in love. Hard. The kind of love utterly pure for its ignorance. Love untainted by discovering the cost of losing it. And for a time it was good: three years to be precise. Although the final year of the relationship suffered a sharp decline which forecasted its eventual end. In those years my dream to travel abroad was given up gladly. Love doesn’t care where it lives.

My friend on the other hand moved back to Japan to study architecture at the university of Kyoto. He’d worked his ass off to earn a full ride scholarship. This scholarship is given out to a handful of people by the Japanese government. Did I mention my friend is smart? So while I got fat, foolishly lazy content in the idea that true-love is infinitely patient, my friend laid down the tracks for a glorious future.

My relationship ended and I was left wondering, what the hell I should do? I’m, as my dad likes to say, a god-cursed arts student. I have a degree in history, which although interesting, is hard to apply in a job market which rewards understanding of the material world. For that reason I drifted from job to job for a couple of years. I’m lucky to have met more amazing friends and people who inspired me. Grateful as I was to meet these people, one of which I directly credit for making me realize I could write, I still didn’t know what to do. Cliché as it may sound, I’d forgotten my dream.

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My friend reminded me. He reminded me about my dream to live abroad. My life came into focus immediately. I would come over to Japan. No matter what I had to do to make it a reality, I would. Strangely, I see in retrospect much as I thought the interview process was grueling and difficult, all that success required of me was an effort. But that’s a different story.

My friend gave me a direction and for that I will always be eternally grateful. It is an incredible gift that we as friends have the power to draw out the dormant potential we can see in the ones we care for. This is not some tired idealist phrase: you can change someone’s life for the better. And having learned this lesson from my friend, I will try to do the same for others until the day I die.

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I felt reborn having come to Japan. Each day I woke up had purpose and excitement. I was living my life the way I believe we all should: with an awareness that each breath we draw carries a certain magic. I could not have been happier. That was, until my friend was diagnosed with cancer.

The news was especially staggering for the life he had led leading up to the diagnosis. There are certain people who are diagnosed and, cruel as it sounds, it makes a certain sense. If you live your life in excess when cancer comes to call it’s not always surprising. My friend is not one of these people. He was a young, healthy, non-smoker, active individual. No one could believe it.

The type of cancer he was diagnosed with was terminal. He would have to face dying. I know the world is filled with amazing people, and perhaps some of them would handle this news well, but none with the unique grace that my friend did. I know for certain he faced despair and under its weight he never gave in. He did the treatments. He watched his health fade. He made peace with death.

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Then, a miracle. The Dr had mis-diagnosed his cancer. It went from being a terminal to case to one with a potentially positive outcome. My friend fought hard. His health came back. He recovered. I have rarely been so happy in my entire life. And I learned from him another lesson. Until something comes to pass its outcome is never certain. Good or bad.

I’m relieved to say that after the chemo and treatments his recovery was complete and since that dark time he has been doing extraordinarily well. He hasn’t however continued to pursue architecture. Nope, instead he and his brother have founded an international tech company which is rapidly on its way to being a massive success.

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The G7 summit was recently held in Japan and my friend was establishing offices there around the time of the event. It just so happened as well that the Canadian government, while at the event, were looking for new tech companies to invest in. My friend’s company’s meteoric rise earned him newly elected Canadian prime-minister Justin Trudeau’s attention and he was invited to a dinner whereat he received a grant for his business. I tell you I can’t believe it. Some people just don’t know when to give up.

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Emulation Is Not Plagiarism

Emulation is not plagiarism. Those who cannot understand this suffer from an overt fear of being something other than absolutely their own invention. You’ll usually find these sort of people calling themselves a true artist. These people, hell-bent on achieving something other than the mainstream, will go to the most ridiculous lengths to assert their otherness. And what is the great irony in all this striving to be original? They end up being like everyone else.

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I believe anyone, myself included, who enters the creative world in whatever medium will find this dilemma facing them: to improve my abilities I must learn from others, but how then, do I retain my own sense of style? My first piece of advice, paradoxical as it may sound, is to disregard the question entirely.

What! Why? They screamed inwardly. Well I’ll tell you. Calm down. You’re always getting worked up over silly things. Once upon a time I had a great conversation with a friend about how we can truly be something and the answer was simple: do it. The person who writes for no other reason than to write is the archetypal writer. The person who makes movies for no other reason than the love of crafting them is the archetypal director. If you have engaged with an activity completely, you will have done so without any thought as to how that activity relates to your ego or reputation. And it is here my friends, that true creativity lies.

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Now for those who throw up their hands and say, “Well I’m just not like that. I think about this sort of thing sleeping or awake.” I do have something for you to consider. Return please to the point I made initially about over-correction. The kind of person who would rather bang on trash cans and slap fish together for percussion than sound like a god-cursed mainstream musician. This person has failed to recognize an inescapable scientific fact: art is a continuum. I say scientific because we can use a musical scale as an example.

If you play the C scale on a piano inevitably you return to the root note. Sure you’re an octave higher but all the notes are the same and the will repeat again. All scales are like this. All art is like this. The beauty is that even though you’re ostensibly trapped in this continuum, you are always free to choose how you move within it. The C scale may have the same notes no matter where you go, up or down, but the order in which you play those notes is up to you.

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I’ll use making Youtube movies to further this example. We all use the same figurative notes in the Youtube scale. These notes are the things we use to make videos: our language, cameras, editing software, and so on. Notice, like the scale, we are all trapped in the continuum again. We can use different editing software to make videos, but we all must use one form or another. In just the same way everyone has their own camera, be that a modest cell-phone or a great and mighty DSLR, but again, we are all restricted to choosing a device which can record images. We must adhere to the same creative principles, but just as with the C scale, we are not trapped by them. On a scale I couldn’t even count the number of variations you can produce, especially given timing and rhythm. Creating videos is no different. The potential for variation is infinite.

Another detail drawn from recognizing that art is a continuum, is that it is also a cycle. What was once unpopular, will become popular again. Art-forms of whatever kind, given time out of the spotlight, gain popularity for that reason. Sitting on the periphery of our awareness they begin to gleam again with the sparkle of something unappreciated. Drawn back into the center they cannot stay there forever. What once made them cool, our fascination with the unknown, dissipates with familiarity. Like a lover that excites us no longer, we discard it for the next, lesser known, promise of excitement. So be aware. Everything artistic and otherwise moves through this cycle and to cling to one form in the hope that it will never fade is ridiculous. Let your art change and evolve. You’ll be more successful for it.

By understanding that nearly all art exists in a continuum and is cyclical, we should cease to care when something we create at some point overlaps with someone else’s work. It’s going to happen. Worry instead about, do I enjoy this? Am I only making art to not be like anyone else? Because if indeed you are, you are a cloned copy of so many others. You will become a self-obsessed bore, willing to sacrifice the pure enjoyment of creation for the fleeting pleasure of replying when people confusedly inquire about your work, “You haven’t heard about my all-coconut rock-band? Not surprised, you’re so mainstream.”

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Society Sickness

ARCHIV - Menschenmassen sind auf einer Straße in Tokio unterwegs, Archivbild vom 30.03.2010. Das Risiko, an Depressionen oder Angststörungen zu erkranken ist Studien zufolge bei Städtern deutlich höher als bei Menschen, die auf dem Land leben. Bei Kindern, die in Großstädten aufwachsen, ist zudem das Schizophrenie-Risiko zwei- bis dreimal so groß. Wissenschaftler haben jetzt herausgefunden, dass zwei für die Regulierung von Stress und Emotionen zuständige Hirnregionen durch das Stadtleben beeinflusst werden, wie Professor Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg vom Zentralinstitut für seelische Gesundheit (ZI) in Mannheim der Nachrichtenagentur dpa sagte. EPA/KIMIMASA MAYAMA (ACHTUNG: Sperrfrist 22. Juni 1900 Uhr, zu dpa-Text "Städter haben höheres Depressionsrisiko" vom 22.06.2011) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Water, if drank too much of, is unhealthy. By extension anything we can consume is potentially deadly. This is a worrying revelation considering what we consume is not limited to the material world. Much of our consumption is cerebral. And so I believe we have created a new kind of sickness: Society Sickness.

Since I was a child people were constantly talking about how quickly change was occurring in the world. I’m sure as well that this particular topic was not native to my generation. Pretty much since change has occurred people have said it’s becoming more rapid, and relatively speaking, they’d be right. I identify this as the primary reason that people dilute their understanding of change now. A mentality wherein we think “well change has always sped up” does not fully appreciate the degree to which it has in our time. And oh my friends how truly it has.

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If you consider that the earliest manifestations of the Internet started in the 1960’s, a fact I looked up as I write this, you should realize how recently massive change has come to the world. Freedom of information is the key factor in how different our lives are today. The advent of the smartphone I think has been severely underestimated for its impact as well. There are other technologies I could mention but I feel these best express the idea I am driving at.

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We’ve had so many new technological introductions to our society that allow us to socialize and educate that I believe, as much as we have impressively adapted, we have not kept up. To draw a fun historical comparison for what happens when new thinking or technology enters the world we could examine briefly Genghis Khan. Previous to the way his military fought, warfare had remained the same for hundreds of years. Equipped as he was with more potent knowledge and tactics, he annihilated his opponents and established one of history’s greatest dynasties. Technology is Genghis Khan in our case; and we are his opponents.

We too easily think of the freedom of information as something that enriches us. When in truth, information comes in infinite forms and is capable of being equally as destructive as it is constructive. Certainly we can now spend endless time improving ourselves with every great master’s works of fiction or science available at our fingertips. But just as simply we can waste weeks binge-watching inane garbage spewed out by click-bait media. We’ve accomplished many great things as a species but our preference, ingrained through evolutionary survival, for the path of least resistance, often leads us astray.

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And we have, as I have tried to establish, come by this fairly innocently. Parents barely used to Facebook themselves would have a hard time realizing what an intense role it will play in their children’s lives. Technology even within the last 10 years has accelerated at such a pace that all but the nerds obsessed with it would not grasp its implications. We’ve all heard the expression “we need to disconnect” and that is what I will appeal to here. Take a moment and think how often each day your eyes are resting on a device that grants free flow limitless information. You may find it startling. We are consuming our society, both mentally and materially, at a rate that could not be called healthy, and we are suffering from it.

I made the point at the beginning concerning water to illustrate that regardless of the quality of something—we need water to live—in excess it’s harmful. It’s worth bearing that in mind for information as well. Yes, even good information that we consume can become harmful, if we do not allow ourselves a moment away from it. So for the love of the great flying spaghetti monster meditate, go camping, and speak personally with a friend. Disconnect and recharge. Maybe one day we’ll expand our mental capacity with whatever neurological implants to handle an endless non-stop flow of “The Kardashians” or “Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey”. But that day has not yet come.

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Creative Process

I was thinking about the creative process today. I’m always cautious of throwing around buzz words like this because, like I like to say, “something said often enough without feeling, loses any amount it once had”. For that reason if I am going to use a popular phrase for inspiration, I really want to know why. After a bit of thought I’ve decided to keep this one around the shop. My reason for doing so lies in the second word of the phrase: process.

I think creatively we make the mistake of thinking that before starting, all the ideas should be laid out, planned, organized. There’s room for that way of creating something. Certainly it’s the only way some people are willing to go ahead with an idea. But for some of us who attempt this route, and I think that’s a large demographic, it’s paralyzing. That word process which I believe is the heart of creativity, can’t get of the ground with all the red-tape (bureaucracy) of planning, surrounding it. I say forget the planning and go straight to process and by doing so you will have far greater success.

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To make the point I’ll talk about how I write outlines for stories. First it starts with staring at a blank page. Then a period of time where I bemoan why I suck at writing (this period usually feels longer than it actually is). Then, the first stupid idea that enters my head I jot down on the page , quick, as though it were the voice of god. This leaping off point usually occurs within fifteen minutes. From there, I notice a distinct ramping up of ideas and possible directions for the outline. Some thirty minutes later I’m usually shocked at what is coming out the end of whatever pen or pencil I am using: the ideas are strong and flowing freely. The ideas that are flowing so freely are a direct result of the utter garbage that preceded them. In this way we see that it is process which leads us to success. And the errors just as important as the final result.

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If we only ever accept a brilliant starting point for an idea, I don’t think we’ll have that many. Hardly any of us wake up brilliant, we usually need a warm up, or coffee at the very least. On the other hand, if we treat our ideas indiscriminately and allow them to exist freely, good or bad, we enter that golden space of inspiration far quicker.

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I’d wager that if you asked most people who create which they prefer more, presenting their creation, or creating it, nine times out of ten you’d hear, “creating it!” blurted out quickly, without much thought, or planning… see what I did there? I believe the reason for an artist’s appreciation of process should be obvious. It is because that is when they are closest to an enlightened moment: when they had a good idea. And that idea is usually found somewhere in the middle of when they started thinking about what to make. The afterglow of course is lovely. We bask in the warmth of awesomeness and do enjoy observing it afterwards. But the glow is fleeting and a shadow of the original fiery passion we felt at the idea’s inception.

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And this ladies and gentlemen is why I’ve chosen to keep the old phrase, creative process, around. At any time we can pull it off the shelf and be reminded of what creating is all about. It reminds us that while all creations are fleeting, creating is not. And an eternity spent contemplating perfection is worthless, when compared with a million mistakes made honestly, in pursuit of pure art.

The End Of Tears

It always seems when my demons gather close I cast out my dreams and they sit before me

Try to restore me, silently implore me to see

I’m only a murderer in my mind, content with my victim, just killing time

No one could ever love me enough, to fill that need

Some have tried to call the bluff, on borrowed time I felt their touch, and still it grows colder colder

Each a dying sun that burned so bright only to be swallowed again by endless night
Welcome to the other side to the knotted tangles of my hidden life

Is it so arrogantly that I had hoped for the end of tears

For something that gets brighter when we confess all our fears
I can’t tell anymore my black from my white, mixing with colours cascading in light

Each new turn laughs at me, demands that I fight, with patience, a virtue, not given to flight

With companions, lovers, enemies, all sharing the roles, whose home do I return to, my heart feels so old.

It heads in a direction, like it always has, to a place where I’m writing and I don’t feel so bad.
Welcome to the other side to the knotted tangles of of my hidden life

And still I’ll never stop believing in the end of tears

For something that gets brighter when we confess all our fears

Collaboration: Delusion’s Cure

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Old paths to publication and creativity are dieing while connectivity and collaboration grows. This is for the better. But first I must acknowledge in myself the strangest habit— I battle it even as I write this. I battle self-delusion. The erroneous thinking which leads one to think they are competing against something as opposed to participating in it.

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I’ll clarify this thought. I am a writer and traditional authorship paths would have me believe that there is a three-step routine to having your book published: write it, get an agent, get it published. I’m not sure what it is about the human condition but I’d always framed this as me against a rigged system. Without even applying much effort I’d come very quickly to the conclusion that getting an agent is like winning a lotto. It is a true a large amount of good writing (not necessarily my own) is consistently passed over. However, the greater realization I’ve been trying to accept is that in no way is a system that is difficult to succeed in, a system that is attacking, you, personally. Ultimately your manuscript’s rejection is impersonal.

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I remember a conversation on the phone with a good friend of mine, pumping myself up, saying, “No matter what people say or think, I will write and publish this book!”. My more level-headed friend on the other end of the line responded, “Who exactly is preventing you?” When confronted by that question I realized I could identify maybe two nay-sayers. And even then, they were more commenting on the known difficulty of getting published. Not directly saying to me you have no hope.

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This is the way of our fears. They have the power to turn our inner monologue into an extroverted perception of what surrounds us. We turn a matter of personal perception (something we very much have control over) into something immutable, outside ourselves, and thus, difficult to influence in a meaningful way. Admittedly the current system’s difficulty to penetrate lends itself to this flawed way of thinking. Human nature compels us, likely as a defense mechanism, to externalize most challenges: a kind of mental off-loading of responsibility. Life is stressful enough without realizing how lazy we are.

But that’s enough self-flagellation. The reason I wanted to write this was to point out which changes in human connectivity are making the creative process far more exciting, collaborative, and somehow paradoxically, an independent endeavor. The big ones you know of course: e-publication, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr, and a slew of others. They all contribute to author’s success, if only for their power to advertise. Much more exciting in my mind however are the social sites I’ve found which go beyond basic advertising, and can actually make you a better writer. I had no idea they existed up until roughly a year ago.

I’m referring to peer review writing sites. These social networks are an invaluable resource if you which to do more than show people what you are creating. They are inherently smaller (any community that actually creates as opposed to consumes always is) but the intense passion for the craft you will find in these places is humbling. Your computer screen becomes a portal to like-minded up and coming authors who all want to help each other grow.

The process on these sites is simple. Participants connect via the forums and offer to critique and review each other’s work. The grammatical comeuppance when I first arrived served as a reminder, we all have much to learn. Having taken my initial lumps I’ve learned an immense amount and networked with people who already have successfully published, be that independently or through a major house.The two I would recommend people use are Figment or Wattpad. Each has its strength.

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Figment’s community is more hardcore and if you wish to have professional critique that’s where you will find it. Again its specialized community of more intensely driven writers means there are less of them but this as well becomes a benefit. With any regular reviewing and effort you become a true member of the community and not so easily lost in the crowd which can occur in the latter I will describe.

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If you wish to go for exposure and more opinions of your work as opposed to full review, Wattpad is the clear winner. Not only does it have a larger community but the site designers quite brilliantly have also designed a mobile application for the site. A mobile application equals—you guessed it—more exposure. The education offered through these sites, let alone the exposure, would have costs thousands in a not so distant past.

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This relates as well to my point regarding the paradoxical independence granted to us by a greater availability of collaboration. There is no longer one path. An abundance of choices leads to far more individualization. Yes you are networking and interacting with more people than ever before, but now you are able to do so on your own terms. You personalize the questions you want answered. Finally you’re free to tailor and define the sort of engagements you want to take part in. It can be a bit disorienting at first, lacking the direction traditional methods offer, but I believe this greatly benefits innovation. It’s the classic idea that because you never learned what was ‘impossible’ you pioneer something everyone else gave up on.

Now with the peer review out of the way I can discuss my favourite part of new-age collaboration: the kind you never saw coming. You might be wondering, what was that cover up at the top of this post? Well aside from being the recently completed cover for my first book ‘Stone Heart’ it is the result of a random collaboration.

I have a Youtube channel called ‘DaveTrippin‘ (shameless plug is shameless). On this channel I try to help people to move to Japan or find work, or basically answer any questions about Japan that people may have. I get lots of emails asking many questions and I am more than happy to make videos answering them. It’s how my channel grows.

One day I got an email which for the first half read like all the others. This fine gentlemen asked if I would mind making a video to answer a few of his questions. Nothing new there. The shocker came in the second half of the email when he offered to design me a cover for my recently completed book. I’m amazed with what he produced and I think you would agree, he did an excellent job. This kind of collaboration was not possible before and is a testament to the better world we now live in as artists.

The string of events which led to this wonderful moment baffles me: a peer review site which never existed until recently has made me a better writer. In turn creating an unrelated Youtube site has put me in contact with an amazing graphic artist. That artist noticed I had a website. A website which I could have only made with the ease of recent technology and the now readily available online tutorials. On that site he sees that I am an author and wants to help me.

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The lesson here is obvious and something we’ve known all along. Humans wish for a world in which we do not hate or repress each other. We wish to reach out, to help, to see ourselves in one another, and with the amazing leaps forward made each day by collaboration, that dream will not one day become reality, it is now, already come.

How To Right Gud: An Homage To Terry Pratchett

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Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is awesome. I could stop right there but that would sort of defeat the self engrandizing journey of praise I’d like to set out upon for this, not long for the world, amazing author. I came to the game so to speak probably far after many had discovered his writing. But that’s always the way for me: late to the party and the last one standing. Strangely enough that’s also only half true as I actually read a graphic novel ‘Mort’ when I was younger that is an adaptation of the novel of his which shares the name. But since I can claim ignorance at the time of not actually knowing it was Terry’s work I still hold to the aforementioned statement that I did not read his work until recently, or at the very least, knowingly.

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Why do I love his work so much? That’s what I’m waxing on about isn’t it. So I’d best get to it. When I read his books I smile, I laugh, I learn, and maybe most important of all, I laugh at myself. In the Disc-World works there are over fourty books. To say that Terry was prolific would be an impressive understatement. The man simply never stopped writing. Up until he passed away he wrote and did so even when he himself could not put a pen to the page. He had someone take dictation and continued on in that way as well. Anyways, I digress.

In these many books I don’t understand and am constantly humbled by how he never ran out of something to say. And there in a way is the lesson I took away from him. He’s the ultimate example of what a writer should do if he wants to improve, grow, evolve, or any other fancy adjective you can throw at the wall: you should write. Yes some of it may be better or worse, but that is hardly the point. The point is to write, unashamedly, unabashedly, unanotherwordedly. Our greatest glory is not in never writing pure garbage, but in writing pure garbage until it becomes someone else’s treasure. I’m now a staunch believer in the counter concept that, you can in fact, polish a turd. To make this point in another way. Terry has made me less afraid of my writing. Inaction is the mother failure, and upon further thought, the distant cousin of masturbating far too much.

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We worry and worry and worry and melt away in a boiling non existence of existential crisis far to often wishing that we made the next great work, the world changer that all will bow before. The Disc-World books made me realize finally how unoriginal that is. A sharp adherence to practiced set standards leads to the constant problem: same shit different manuscript. Writing is meant to be play, to entertain! I feel like you see this a lot in Terry’s irreverent non-stop word play. The man is constantly creating words, messing with the ones we know and liberating us from the misunderstanding that language is law. Language is a symbol of our better selves and our better selves are not ruled by laws. They are freed by creation. Granted to write a sentence with zero punctuation that carries on for ages when it should have stopped an eternity ago can get you in serious trouble if you’re not careful and a lot of people will have your head for it but if you stick to your convictions and run with it you may be surprised at the end result… it might be funny?

So that’s what Terry Pratchett means to me. Don’t be so insufferably strict with how you right. Play with language. If you are doing it for any other reason than the clacking you feel under your fingers as you go along, you may want to examine your goals.

Stop Reading!

SOMA Game Review

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Like many a nerdy dreamer I to have found myself caught up in the excitement of starting a let’s play channel (thegreatowl). For the uninitiated, that’s a Youtube channel where you upload playlists of games you are playing through or any other content as it relates to games: reviews, reviews of items in games, commentaries as you play, stuff like that.

I’d been away from gaming for some time as I have focused on writing but saw this as a way to get back into it without it feeling entirely indulgent. Basically I finally had an excuse to play games and call it work. Thank the gods.

One of the greatest things about getting back into it has been observing the world of video games as it has evolved so much over the past half decade or so that I have been away. One particular genre of games, of which this piece of writing concerns itself with, is survival horror.

Yes, we’ve seen earlier iterations of this kind of game before, such as the original ‘Resident Evil’ or ‘Silent Hill’ but let me tell you, have they ever come a long way. These new games make the old ones, unsurprisingly, look dated beyond compare.

The game I picked up off the Playstation online store goes by the name of SOMA. This is not the first game of this kind produced by the company ‘Frictional Games’. Their original was a game called ‘Amnesia’. While I intend to dedicate most of this writing to SOMA, Amnesia as well deserves a nod, and was a staggering achievement in terms of what can now be accomplished in a game setting that must have suspension of disbelief or fall apart utterly.

I should say first as well I am not usually a fan of horror movies, or having the shit scared out of me. Which makes even further the point that this game performed an incredible feat to draw my interest. Now on to what makes this game so great in my opinion.

I’ve already mentioned in passing the first reason: suspension of disbelief. When creating a survival horror environment game designers are faced with a monumental task: make what is entirely safe and harmless, seem like it’s going to kill you. It is then paramount that the player be completely immersed in the game world. Snap out of the immersion for even a moment and what you are doing and all your feelings towards it become laughable. Herein lies SOMA and its predecessor’s basis for success. At ever level they achieve this and it is more nuanced than you might think.

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Setting: SOMA takes place on the ocean floor. By choosing such an ominous and obviously claustrophobic backdrop for the game’s wonderfully written narrative the player is already primed for immersion – quite literally in this case – pardon the pun. You are in Pathos, a hilariously named underwater city. I say hilarious because Pathos among its many meanings means tragedy. Who the hell named this place! It is beautiful in all its dark and rusted horror. Frequent power outages and the remnants of those who live their show rather than tell the story you’ve been dropped into. The additional detail, should you choose to explore more, is worth discovering. I could continue more here but suffice it to say the level design is exceptional and although largely linear still rewards the player for searching out rooms that have no other purpose than fleshing out the plot.

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What is a world without sound? I would recommend if you play a game like this that headphones are a must. You won’t truly appreciate the efforts that went into SOMA’s sound design unless you do so. They are jaw dropping. Doors open with a visceral metallic snap, your boot-steps thud weighted with foreboding, as you run hard your heart-beat picks up in your ears creating urgency, gore and all things bloody or squishy have the appropriate amount of… squishiness? I was particularly impressed when you are outside the city and walking on the ocean floor. I can tell you from my times diving they’ve nailed this perfectly. Here like in no other game does the sound matter and draw you in. It is easy to forget that that light flickering just so as you enter a room setting your nerves on edge is done so with purpose and forethought. I can assure you all throughout SOMA you will find examples of the design teams unending mission to make every new corner, one that you hesitate to look around.

The villains: They are perhaps the greatest challenge in a game of this nature to get right. How, do you get a player to actually feel threatened by a pile of pixels? We, the jaded citizens of modern society, usually after getting a look at what is scaring us say, “oh, I’ve seen that before. Boring”. Thankfully the game designers of SOMA have quite elegantly solved this problem.

GR$

They’ve simply and brilliantly added the game mechanic that looking directly at these foes will cause as much damage as coming in direct contact with them. I nearly clapped when I heard this portion of the gameplay explained by your lone companion that follows you along in your mission. It’s success was two-fold. First, and most importantly, the mystery of that which stalks you is maintained in a natural way . Without mystery, without wondering what this thing is, we quickly lose our fear. Imagination is always so much more terrifying than reality. Second they implemented the game mechanic in a way that made sense for the story. It is always truly impressive when an apparent weakness is subverted and made instead into a strength. The final characteristic of your would be killers I want to mention is their frequency. As opposed to scare after jump scare which would quickly numb the players senses, these monstrosities are used at carefully timed increments, again usually at plot points of particular interest to heighten you immersion.

GR6

The last aspect I will discuss and one which I credit survival horror games with reviving, is plot. When you cannot rely so much on action or bright flashy graphical flourishes you must have a wonderful story. And in no way is SOMA’s weaker than any of its other well executed components. I’ll be careful here as it is so good I would hate to spoil any of its delicious details. They really did hit it out of the park. Sci-Fi lovers will swoon, and horror fans should be just as satisfied. The overall arc as revealed by one character specifically is impressive enough with its scope and philosophical considerations, let alone all the different occasions the designers us in world features to reveal other points. Everywhere, as I’d already mentioned, is show not tell. Molding pictures of loved ones gone, a bloody razor blade, sealed off pathways with warnings, all show the player what has happened here and the imagination quickly sets off on a million suppositions of what could have transpired in this haunted tragic place.

So in conclusion. If you can stomach, the churning of your own, play this game. I don’t really liked being scared but I will forgo that feeling for something so well crafted. SOMA is excellent and if Frictional Games continues on this trend, gamers should look forward to each and every one of their releases.

I give this game a rating of… Thirty Unicorns!

I Think Too Goddamn Much!

Allan

I have a problem. And considering the way I acted when I was younger, I find it’s strange that it’s the one that plagues me most as I’ve gotten older. When I was young I’d do something shit stupid and my dad would ask me about the repercussions of what I’d done. I would start to answer, “Well, I didn’t think-.” He would cut me off. “Exactly! You didn’t think.” Herein lay my youthful problem: action without forethought.

Now a few days have gone by. I’m roughly thirty and perhaps because of my obsessive worry about not thinking enough when I was younger, I am now cursed with the exact reverse. I think to goddamn much! No action is done without weighing first all the multitude of outcomes. Any moral act is beaten to death with a stick long after it should be put to rest. I wanted to buy a car recently on a modest budget and only realized around consulting in great depth with the fifth or sixth person that I was treating the whole thing like marriage proposal. It’s a special kind of hell. My spontaneous self left strangled and beaten to a pulp.

A strong desire to believe that we can change has shaped a great deal of my recent life. I’ve sought out wise people for advice and found them in our history either in books or lectures. My favourite is Allan Watts. He’s the 1970’s guru (although he would hate to be called that) who popularized Eastern philosophy in the west. I like him so much because of the academics I could find, he speaks directly at the topic as opposed to around it. I say this because I’ve found books on neuroplasticity touch on the subject but don’t really get into the meat of it. Not to say you shouldn’t read these either they’re amazing for their own reasons.

Anyways. Why is Allan Watts such a good resource for the topic? I’ve found his strength is two-fold. You have on the one hand his great research background on Eastern philosophy that gives him something to talk about. On the other, and surprisingly the most potent, he talks! His lectures can be found all over Youtube.

Listening to him, as much as I found what he has to say was incredibly enriching in terms of its educational value, it was the timbre and sonorous quality of his voice as he spoke that provided me with the most peace. One of the primary virtues he espouses when trying to escape our obsession with control and over-thinking is that we would simply experience the here and now more. Something modern therapeutic meditation might call “mindfulness”. There is a big problem with it though. If your goal is to become lost in a moment of immediate experience you’ll quickly defeat yourself by “thinking” far far to much about getting lost in the moment. A sort of cyclical disaster.

Explosion

Watts warns about this and says if your intention is to calm and clear the mind do not go about doing so by demanding of your inner thoughts that they should leave. He says this has the same effect as trying to calm disturbed water with a flat-iron (an expression I love dearly). Instead he suggests observing your thoughts. Allow them to enter your mind and become aware of them. In this way you allow all the conflicting repressed garbage demanding your attention to take its turn and then clear. I’ve heard others describe it as watching cars pass on the road. Each car is a thought and you observe them as they come. This accommodating non combative method, I’ve found, truly does yield results.

And that is why I discovered it was less the content of Allan’s speeches that mattered to me and more his tone. This is because it was his extremely enjoyable tone, which after I observed the points he made, made me forget I was observing them at all. I forgot because I enjoyed the experience of his voice so much, to think about what he was saying. Hallelujah. I defeated the cycle not because I had learned so much about what exactly I should bend my will to accomplish. I simply enjoyed so much what I was doing, I forgot to think about it.

And that is what I have learned about how to calm my mind and do at least something to absolve this most assiduous cancer of over-thinking. Do something I love. Do anything that I become so involved in I forget who I am, what I care about, what I (imagine) matters. In doing so I am free. I actually have a bit of a chuckle to myself when I think how often I have hated the idea of someone being a couch potato and mindlessly watching television. I understand now the need for such an escape. Constant reflection is as unhealthy as no reflection at all. We need to disconnect. We must. Living in this world with its infinite information to consider is something which can poison an overactive mind.

So this is my advice to you reader. You who by some fascinating twist of the universe’s superpositions made it to my writing and took the time and gave it the honour of your attention. Minus all the mumbo-jumbo about meditation and mindfulness, if you find yourself in a similar situation to myself: where even feeding the cat becomes the greatest existential moral dilemma of your life. Let go and find something you simply enjoy, something you really really enjoy. You will forget the illusion of (I). You will become more what you truly are: an experience.

When You Bleed You’re Beautiful

Approach and state your name

Did you come here to fight

Did you come here to blame

This road is not yours this house is not mine

You’re building castles in the sand this time

I’m so tired of drawing lines

We can, can fly above them

They’ll not matter when you see them far away

One more argument you bought and sold

I’m sorry to be the one who tells you, baby, when you bleed you’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, be there, fade away, say my name, let me know

Appear, what twists and takes all your fears

Knock, knocking you, get up fall down

That familiar feel of crumbling ground

I know you’re tired of endings and beginnings

Life’s long lists of what ifs and letting gos

Just remember when we bleed we’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, let me go, be there, fade away, let me know